Summer’s Last Stand – A Weekend of “Firsts”

By Jan Arkless North County Aikikai

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On August 26, Summit Aikikai hosted their inaugural Late Summer Seminar with guest instructors Ed Hernandez, 3rd dan, and Todd Fessenden, 3rd dan. Keeping with a weekend of firsts, it was Ed and Todd’s first seminar. The president of Birankai North America, Alex Peterson, 6th dan, Chief Instructor of Summit Aikikai, lead the charge of the directive sent from the teacher’s council, to get more young teachers out into the larger community, sharing their wealth of knowledge. Answering the call to Park City were aikidoka from Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, California, Wyoming and Oregon. With a mix of out-the-box beginners to a Shihan, it seemed everyone checked their ego at the door and donned the cloak of sincerity.
The event kicked off Friday with Hernadez Sensei humbly proclaiming that this was his “first gig,” then joyfully shook off our travel weariness by leading us through a number of high energy techniques. Spirit was high, smiles were abundant, sweat was profuse. A number of us sea-level folk wilted minutes into the class due to the altitude, but determiningly persevered. Is there no oxygen in Park City?

Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend

Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend

Friday evening, Peterson Sensei, along with ever-smiling Elizabeth Goward from Eugene Aikiakai, had arranged a rambling walk through the heart of Party City (not a typo) to a pub called the Wasatch Brewery. We all got to know each other with libations such as “Polygamy Porter,” and “Last One In Lager.” 
Saturday morning brought Fessenden Sensei into the mix with his precision-sharp weapons. Using the 8-count suburi in partner practice, he drew us into his personal exploration of the hip turn ending and the extension which necessitates it.
Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn

Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn


The afternoon practice started off with an introduction to the Russian martial art, Systema, by Mark Zamarin. With a focus on breathing, relaxation, and development of intuition/sixth-sense, and using the opponent’s energy against him, it was easy to see Systema’s relationship to the deeper levels of aikido. 
After all that relaxation, Hernandez Sensei, used yokomen attacks to keep us responsive and connected. Fessenden Sensei followed up with the 12 kesa jyo basics, again with an emphasis on hip turn and getting off the line. 
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The perfect ending to such a day was a picnic and frigid dip in Rockport Reservoir Lake. We perched like mountain goats on the side of a rocky bluff watching the watersports and our friends swimming. As the sun went down and we bundled up, Elizabeth entertained us with guitar and folk songs. 
Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding

Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding


After Sunday’s classes, Dennis Belt Shihan presented Alex Sensei with the Biran Bowl, the “gift from heaven” that inspired Chiba Sensei to name our organization Birankai. It was a humbling moment to see this exchange. I know this symbol is in good hands, in a dojo with a Chief Instructor who keeps the legacy of Chiba Sensei’s aikido protected and alive.
Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson

Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson


Biran Bowl

Biran Bowl

After the seminar, our generous host, Alex Sensei took us to one of his favorite rock climbing places where he introduced us to top-roping. It was my first experience rock climbing and to say I was filled with trepidation is an understatement. However, safe in my harness and with Alex’s brother-in-law, David Friend, on belay, I felt secure and made it as high as my weary muscles would allow. Much higher than the climbing gym! As my experienced climber fiancé says, “Be scared…. and do it anyway.” Cindy Moore also took on the challenge, calmly climbing until called down so that we could catch our flight.
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I feel honored to have experienced Todd and Ed’s first seminar. Their commitment and sincerity left me inspired and determined to forge on.   Alex Peterson is a thoughtful and generous host. Walking into his dojo is a cross between walking into a church and your own living room, equally deferential and welcoming. With a dojo named “Summit,” you are expected to reach great heights. Under his guidance it is certainly attainable. I would encourage all to give his next seminar a try. You never know what adventure he will entice you into. 
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Mountain Weapons Seminar: Training in Nature’s Elements to Become Annual Event

By Cecilia Ramos Sensei, Grass Valley Aikikai

Our Grass Valley Aikikai Mountain Weapons Seminar with Elmer Tancinco Sensei, on July 23rd has come and gone. Resting afterwards and reflecting back on the experience, my mind is flooded with images and emotions. As the host I should show humble modesty, but it was a grand seminar!

Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca

Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca


I bought my home on 10 acres in the Sierra Nevadas in 2004, and from that time until now I have dreamed of having an outdoor weapons seminar. At long last the stars have aligned and it has come to pass! It was an experiment, I didn’t know if it would work out. I worried people would find it too hot, too dirty, too buggy, or too far to drive. I was prepared to have it be just a handful of my own students and Tancinco Sensei. Instead we had 36 people training, plus 9 more friends and family joined us for dinner. Judging by everyone’s faces and comments as they trained and then partied, and by all the Facebook posts afterward, the experiment was a success! Obviously, we will have to do it again! In retrospect we will have to rename this seminar the First Annual Mountain Weapons Seminar!
Kamiza in the woods

Kamiza in the woods


We had students come from Alameda Aikikai, Hayward Aikikai, Eastshore Aikikai, Aikido Institute of San Francisco, Davis Aikikai, plus Daniel Acosta Sensei from Mexico and Brian Batchley, formerly from Ventura Aikikai and now at-large in Paradise, California. Lizzy Lynn Shihan, my dear friend, came too and lent her support. I was dumbfounded when sneaky Alex Peterson Sensei and his sidekick Karen Kalliel Sensei showed up unannounced to surprise me, having conspired with my students at summer camp. What a wonderful surprise it was!
A nice smile from Tancico Sensei

A nice smile from Tancico Sensei


There was an element of stress for our family in preparing because we had decided to repair our pond. The pond was there when I bought the house. Originally it was a spring fed creek. A former owner dug it into a pond but didn’t do it right. It was pretty from a distance, but up close it was a mess, and it leaked. The project originally had nothing to do with the seminar, but the seminar date had already been set when we realized that we were in a position to finally rebuild the pond. Fred (my sweetheart and the cook) determined that it could get done before the seminar, rather than waiting until after. Naturally the project expanded and we kept adding things, like the Fred Flintstone outdoor kitchen, the terrace, the beach, and the wood chips! As the seminar date approached, we stayed calm, on course, and yet I am amazed that it came together in time. Many thanks to Fred’s son Forest (also the cook) and to my student, Kyle Comte, who labored like convicts in the hot sun moving rocks, and of course to Fred himself who was the chief architect and laborer! We have learned some lessons and it will continue to evolve. Obviously there will have to be an outdoor foot shower, after everyone was gone the house was full of sand!

The aspect of the seminar that had to do with the training itself was Tancinco Sensei’s department. Of course, I knew he would do a great job, that’s why I invited him, but in my opinion, he seemed to rise to a new level. His teaching was so clear, so martial, funny at times, and kind. I could see every student pulled forward in their practice. With first the bokken and later the jyo, he started with basics, then took everyone into deeper forms. JD Sandoval Sensei graciously served on the uke side, and between the two of them, it was something to witness. Here in Northern California we are very lucky to have instructors of such caliber.

Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach

Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach

After the last class people swam in the pond, and dined outside. Later, those who could stay late sat up by a campfire. Tancico Sensei slept in a tent by the pond and Acosta Sensei slept under the stars. The next day he told me he had been a little cold, but said he had adjusted the blankets and was OK. That was when I realized I had forgotten to give him a sleeping bag! The two (very thin) blankets that he used, were to have protected the bottom of the tent (that he didn’t use). He is a pretty tough guy to sleep out like that. Sandoval Sensei, Bernadette, their two girls, and little dog took the attic. Lizzy Lynn Shihan was in the living room. Antonio and Joshua were outside in their RV. So it was a darn full house! Just what I like – having a lot of aikido people all together. It was like summer camp for 24 hours at my home – heavenly.

Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!

Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!

A wholehearted thank you to everyone who came. You made a dream come true for me, and now I can look forward to sharing the mountains with all of you for the rest of my life. Next year I hope even more Birankai students can come and continue our martial development, exploring our weapons curriculum, fighting the mountain. Work like this, through each of us, will make Birankai strong.

A great group photo to end the training

A great group photo to end the training

Summer Camp 2016 Ushers in New Role

By Sarah Cuevas, Grass Valley Aikikai

Touching down in NYC after a red-eye from Reno, Nev., my Sensei, Cecilia Ramos, my fellow student Marci Martinez and myself, excitedly made our way to the beautiful grounds of St. John’s University.IMG_6832
After a short drive through Queens, admiring the sloped roofs designed for heavy snows of East Coast winters, the unfamiliar neighborhoods and the trees vastly different from those of my native California, we were dropped on campus with hours to spare before the first evening class. After a quick trip to the dojo to check out the mat setup, a short walk around campus, and registering among the first at camp (thank you, red-eye), we arranged ourselves in our quarters and got ready for the first class.20160614_084831

My excitement and nervousness shared equal parts of my mental configuration.  I have just taken on a new position for Birankai: editing this online newsletter.  I knew coming to camp would serve as the springboard for this new position.  I also knew I had big shoes to fill, as the retiring editor Liese Klein has held this position for the past 15 years.  She has nurtured it through its adolescence, and created the profound resource it has become today for our Aikido community.  Given the new position and the shoes to fill, I knew the heat would be on to meet any expectations that come with the job.

Having been to camp only once before, ten years prior, I decide to leave any of my own expectations of what was to come back home.  What I did expect, however was nothing less than good, hard, solid training. This expectation was met with the first class taught by Patti Lyons Sensei.  My training partners had no issue throwing me around the mat, letting me know exactly what I was doing wrong, and having benevolent patience with my mistakes.  A gift indeed, as this is a recipe for growth through training.

Before Summer Camp during my Sankyu test.

Before Summer Camp during my Sankyu test.

As camp went on, I was challenged by every class.  Each teacher provided a variety of techniques with a focus on the theme of “connectedness.”  From tai no henko to iriminage to kokyuhos and kokyunages, we were guided in the form, details, and execution of each technique.  I’ve never felt so much like a rag doll in my life!  Each class was a download of information, a challenge for my body/brain connection, and a training of my ego (“Oh, I know this one! I can do this no problem”, only to realize that subtle variations make huge differences when it comes to doing exactly what was shown by the teacher).  With each teacher having a unique set of talents, personality and teaching style, I appreciated the individuality of each class.  You never know what to expect when you step on that mat, so relinquishing expectations was a great idea.

By the end of the second day, I was formally indoctrinated into sweat, aches and pains.  I think the only time I wasn’t sweating, was walking to and eating in the cafeteria.  I had brought a bottle of analgesic oil for the aches and a tube of arnica for the bruises, using both each day to alleviate what I could.  If you’ve ever been to camp, you are surely familiar with the heavy, achy and sore muscle groups: nearly every muscle and tendon communicated the need for self-massage, stretch or rest.  Indeed, each received some form of the three, and bowing in to every class I wondered how I would survive! Ironically, as soon as I started to move on the mat, my body forgot about the pain, seemed to not remember the aches and bruises, and carried me through the whole class, only to reveal its presence again at the end of class!  This was an interesting experience for me, because after each day I felt like I had been hit with a truck.  The following day, I would bow in, turn on the brain, and let the body just follow along.

Bokken impressions over the Birankai Summer Camp tote.

Bokken impressions over the Birankai Summer Camp tote.

The rest of the week followed this same pattern, wake, stretch, pain, then train.  In between classes I had duties related to my new position, and was often being introduced to the key players who would help me in adapting to my new role.  I was first introduced to the members of the Birankai Board of Directors during one of their formal meetings at lunch.  After one class, Champion Sensei walked me around to introduce me to a few Sensei he thought I should know. I was introduced to the members of the Teachers’ Council during another lunch, allowing me to get an inside scoop of what happens behind the closed doors of our organization.

Each evening was as unique as the classes.  The week began with the mixer, full with music from talented fellow Aikidoists, a catered function with treats and sweets.  The following night was a free night in the city exploring Central Park and Times Square.  There was a memorial class for Chiba Sensei taught by Lynn Sensei, and the final evening of the farewell party was full of good food, short skits, a time of honoring each other for all the hard work, shared stories from students of their teachers, the annual fundraising raffle, and, of course, music and dancing.  Everyone attending seemed to laugh and enjoy themselves while making fond memories for the future.

View of New York City from St. John's University

View of New York City from St. John’s University

The final day remained true to form with training, good people and many goodbyes.  In the morning, we spent some time on the now mat-less gym floor in a class led by Stier Sensei, performing Tachiwaza exercises.  After eating a final breakfast in the cafeteria, we walked back to our dorms ready to pack up and head home.

Summer camp was a blend of excitement, bodily commitment, mental perseverance, strength and an open heart.  With any training, it is important to honor all aspects of what has been taught, and what was learned.  I feel blessed to have the experience of getting to train with so many dedicated Aikidoists.  I took home new technique, and a fresh, revived attitude toward training.  I know I am not alone in this.

I would like to thank Savoca Sensei and Brooklyn Aikikai for all of their hard work in organizing camp this year. Summer camp would not have been possible without the dedication and efforts of the many hands involved with making this such a success.  There were many behind-the-scenes responsibilities that made for the fluid and accomplished success of this year’s camp.  As always, a huge gratitude is owed to the core teachers, our respected Shihan and all the instructors who brought their teaching to us during classes.  Thank you to all, you have blessed our community with the gift of opportunity, training and fellowship.

Camp Highlights

Most of us are back home – the bruises are fading and the gis have been washed. Time to reflect on Birankai Aikido 2016 Summer Camp, which ended with a lively session of tai no henko led by Dave Stier Shihan of Green River Aikido on Tuesday morning.

Stier Sensei was the topic of some truly moving testimonies at the farewell party the night before, when his students told of his dedication to helping those of all abilities and body types master Aikido.

“I just wanted to be a student,” Stier Sensei said, describing the trajectory of his training after the sudden death of his teacher, Paul Sylvain Shihan. Stier Sensei went on to lead an impressive closing class to 2016 Birankai Summer Camp.

Another longtime student, Frank Apodaca Sensei of Deep River Aikikai in North Carolina, was recognized earlier during camp: Birankai has recommended that he be promoted to shihan rank.

Apodaca Sensei was a long-suffering kenshusei when I arrived in San Diego, a veteran of the legendary “Pressure Cooker” and “Suffering Bastards” eras.  His ukemi was death-defying to this newbie, especially when he would get up seemingly in one piece after Chiba Sensei demonstrated ushiro ryotedori sutemi waza, also known as “the roadkill technique.” (Chiba Sensei would rear back and flatten him like a bug.)

By the time I got there in the mid-1990s, Apodaca Sensei was a stern taskmaster in morning class and an even more stern leader of sesshin and other events at San Diego Aikikai, a link to a harsher past. Time spent as dojo-cho in Portland, Oregon, and Lansing, Michigan, seemed to mellow him out, and by the time Apodaca Sensei established Deep River Aikikai he was a supportive and open-hearted teacher.

For me, the best thing about 2016 Birankai Summer Camp was gaining new appreciation for these two men, working often without recognition in recent years to transmit Chiba Sensei’s (and Sylvain Sensei’s) Aikido.

With teachers like these in our ranks, Birankai is in safe hands.

Liese Klein

(More new video of 2016 Birankai Aikido Summer Camp at the BiranOnline channel on YouTube.)

Closing Time

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It’s that bittersweet moment at every Birankai Aikido Summer Camp when we roll up the mats, pack up most of our stuff and get ready for the farewell party. One more class tomorrow then we fly, drive, ride the subway or otherwise make our way home.

It’s been a very positive event, with record numbers on the mat for an East Coast Birankai summer camp, positive financials and strong training with no serious injuries so far. We were joined by Birankai members from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and welcomed visitors from countries including Switzerland, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Canada.

Special guest and excellent Birankai friend Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan of New York Aikikai led a dynamic and enjoyable class on Saturday. Our Birankai shihan and shidoin collaborated to create a thematic curriculum for the rest of camp with a focus on connection and centeredness. Now for the raffle, our ultimate test of stamina and concentration. See you all at the party!

Liese Klein

Views of Camp

Kings of Queens

Birankai North America Summer Camp is here! Amazing weather, a beautiful campus and dynamic training here at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. Day One got camp off to a great start with Patti Lyons Sensei of Bucks County Aikido leading an action-packed class. Good thing the dojo is air-conditioned…

Make sure to check the BiranOnline channel on Youtube for new videos as camp continues.

A reminder to Birankai members at camp to pick up their new copies of Biran, our organization’s print newsletter. This summer’s issue features, among other great articles:

  • Archie Champion Sensei on ukemi
  • George Lyons Sensei on testing
  • Yoko Okamoto Sensei on the three teachers who shaped her Aikido
  • Liese Klein Sensei on our connection to Hombu Dojo in Tokyo
  • Sarah Kaylor on the meaning behind the indigo-blue color of our hakamas
  • An update on the Chiba Sensei biography project
  • Info on the upcoming Instructors’ Intensive in the Midwest
  • A report on the Paul Sylvain Sensei 20th Anniversary memorial seminar

Pick up your dojo’s copies here at camp and appreciate anew the writing skill and thoughtfulness of our Birankai community. We can throw down and write poetry, too!

Going Forward

Katherine Heins Sensei practices tea ceremony at Fire Horse Aikido on June 5, 2016.

Katherine Heins Sensei practices tea ceremony at Fire Horse Aikido on June 5, 2016.

Looking ahead to summer camp after a year of mourning, there’s a lot to be hopeful about in Birankai North America. What makes me particularly optimistic is the impressive crop of junior instructors coming into their own, both leading dojos, supporting senior teachers and giving seminars.

Philip and Bernadette Vargas Sensei of Aikido of Albuquerque are great examples of Birankai teachers who show leadership on the mat, off the mat and in their community. The Vargases took center stage at the first-ever Birankai Aikido Southwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Seminar in April – the group photo at the top of the page is from that event.

Fire Horse Aikido hosted another impressive junior instructor, Kate Savoca of Brooklyn Aikikai, earlier this year. She knocked our socks off with her crisp technique, clear instruction and dynamic energy. Check out the videos at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.

Just this past weekend here in New Haven, we hosted Katherine Heins Sensei for three days of special training before summer camp. With her background as both Chiba Sensei’s kenshusei and a seven-year resident of Japan, Heins Sensei brings invaluable experience and true talent to Birankai. Heins Sensei’s intensive training in Japanese tea ceremony — closely linked to Zen and martial arts — comes through in her direct, uncluttered approach to technique and practice. She has also been doing some serious thinking about how to transmit Chiba Sensei’s Aikido; she focused her classes this weekend on drills to bring out difficult concepts in ukemi and weapons that benefited students and teachers of all ranks.

(To follow Heins Sensei on her upcoming tour of Asia, Russia, Europe and the U.K., check out her blog at thewanderingroosterblog.wordpress.com — and invite her to teach at your dojo!)

Below are some clips of Heins Sensei’s teaching on back falls this past weekend, breaking down the movements and recalibrating posture to prevent injury.  Below that is a clip she prepared of front-roll exercises.

Heins Sensei is on the core team of instructors at Birankai North America Summer Camp starting on Thursday –  don’t miss it!

Liese Klein

A Year Later

Mrs. Chiba and visitors at a memorial lunch at Chogenji temple in Japan.

Mrs. Chiba and visitors at a memorial lunch at Chogenji temple in Japan.

Dojos around the world held memorial events for Chiba Sensei this weekend as Mrs. Chiba, family members and students marked the date of his passing at Chogenji temple.

North County Aikikai’s message said it all:
“Today we held a brief memorial for Chiba Sensei. We chanted the Heart Sutra and burned incense in his memory. To this, we added our sweat and honest practice.”

Below are a few photos posted from events worldwide.

Memorial practice at Athens Aikido in Greece with Jenny Flower and Diane Deskin.

Memorial practice at Athens Aikido in Greece with Jenny Flower and Diane Deskin.

Outdoor training at Aikido Takayama in Mission, B.C.

Outdoor training at Aikido Takayama in Mission, B.C.

Memorial kamiza at North County Aikikai in Solana Beach, California.

Memorial kamiza at North County Aikikai in Solana Beach, California.

Chiba Sensei's grave in Kannami, Japan.

Chiba Sensei’s grave in Kannami, Japan.

In Remembrance

Chiba Sensei with a steelhead on the Rogue River in Oregon, 2006.

Chiba Sensei with a steelhead on the Rogue River in Oregon, 2007.

By Darrell Bluhm, Siskiyou Aikikai

This June 5th will mark the first anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s death. It is customary in Japan to privately or publicly honor someone’s life on the anniversary of their death. For example, on April 26th Aikidoka all over the world hold memorial practices or other events in memory of O-Sensei, who died on that date in 1969. How we choose to do this in our lives and within our own dojos varies, there being no one correct way. Some Birankai community members have requested guidance on how to appropriately observe the anniversary of our teacher’s passing for this first year and in the years to come. What follows is my effort to answer that request and is purely my personal approach and in no way represents any official organizational recommendations to others.

A day or two after Sensei’s death a friend asked me how I was, and I replied that I was mourning the death of my teacher. He offered his condolences and told me that in his family they believed that each of us dies three deaths: the first death being when our heart stops, the second when we are buried and the third when our name is spoken for the last time. I think the purpose of cultural forms of remembrance are to keep alive in our hearts and minds our family members, teachers and friends and to give voice to their names and celebrate their lives. For us, the community of Birankai, every time we practice, bowing to the shomen and training sincerely, we honor our teacher and his teachers. Whatever choices we make to remember Chiba Sensei on June 5th this year and beyond, the most important thing is that we do them in an honest and heartfelt way.

Chiba Sensei emphasized the importance of the teacher-student relationship as the vehicle for transmitting Aikido from person to person, generation to generation. He often used the Japanese expression I Shin Den Shin, which is commonly translated as “Heart to Heart Transmission.” Sensei also spoke of it as the development of a “tacit understanding” between two individuals, an understanding that transcends language. Whether we choose to simply have a special class, light a candle and offer incense, sit zazen, chant the Heart Sutra, offer prayers in the manner of our personal spiritual tradition, all of or none of these, what will be most important is that we do so from the heart.

Amongst other things, I plan to go fishing.

Camp Countdown

Less than a month left!

Birankai Aikido Summer Camp is only a few weeks away and you’ve only got until May 15 to sign up and get a discounted price. Click here to find out more and register for this special event. (camp.birankai.org)

To get everyone pumped for camp, we’re going to be posting a new video (or two or three) every day until the mats are rolled out at St. John’s University in Queens. The clips will go up on the BiranOnline channel on Youtube – subscribe so you don’t miss any.

Today I’m saluting our long-suffering camp director, Robert Savoca of Brooklyn Aikikai. In addition to running a thriving dojo and taking care of his family, Savoca Sensei is dealing with the swarm of details that drive camp directors crazy. These newly posted video clips highlight Savoca Sensei’s commitment to teaching uke as well as nage.

I’m also reposting this compilation video I put together recently of one of Chiba Sensei’s classes from our last East Coast Birankai Summer Camp, 2012 in Bronxville, N.Y. First you see Chiba Sensei demonstrating techniques, then various Birankai instructors demonstrating. Many of those teachers will be at this year’s camp — don’t miss it!

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain High

By Michelle Rudeau, Aikido of Albuquerque

“Cut all the way through!” says Philip Vargas Sensei of Aikido of Albuquerque. And down comes his bokken.

Just move. Crack. Just a glancing blow that time. Eh, well that was…better, goes my internal dialog.

“Ok, try that.” Vargas Sensei sends everyone back to practice and I rush back to my partner.

“Onegaishimasu!”

And so went Friday night’s classes, which started the Birankai Aikido Southwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Seminar last weekend in beautiful Boulder City, Nev. Fifteen students from New Mexico made the trip to support the regional seminar, and I was excited to see so many others from within the region and outside (California) come together to train.

IMG_7194Saturday was ushered in by Bernadette Vargas Sensei’s conditioning routine. Jumping-jacks, squats, push-ups, flutter kicks, leg lifts, crunches (abs, abs, and more abs). Then shihonage and iriminage (up and down, up and down). Lizzy Lynn Shihan of Eastshore Aikikai and Archie Champion Shihan of Central Coast Aikikai not only offered their knowledge and experience to those in attendance, but offered encouragement and inspiration as well.

The range of people there was humbling: participants as young as 11 years old and others that barely in their third month of training.

It was a challenge working with so many different body types and skill levels, but it reminded me of the potential of Aikido. The confidence it inspires in the 11-year-old, throwing someone twice his size. The responsibility it instills in the senior students to make sure the new students are taken care of; falling safely, guiding them through unfamiliar techniques.

By Saturday evening, the soreness and fatigue was setting in for everyone. But it was nothing a little pizza and beer (for the appropriate crowd) couldn’t cure! After good food and a good night’s rest, we were ready to tackle Sunday’s classes: body arts and bokken. And in a blink of an eye, the weekend’s over. After classes, it’s a flurry of moving mats and saying goodbye to friends, promising that we’ll train together soon. I leave the seminar in high spirits; happy at how big the turnout was, grateful for the support of those who came and for those who organized the event.

A special thanks to the Las Vegas Aikikai and Boulder City Aikido dojos for their hospitality and hard work organizing the seminar, and also to the T. K. Chiba and Mitsuko Chiba Seminar Endowment for supporting our training.

Thank you to the shihan, senior teachers, and to the California contingent that came to support our region.

Editor’s note: View more video of this event at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.

Joyful Melancholy

Didier Boyet Shihan; his partner, Agnès Disson, and Miyamoto Shihan at the 7th dan celebration.

Didier Boyet Shihan; his partner, Agnès Disson, and Miyamoto Shihan at the 7th dan celebration.

By A. G. Peterson, Summit Aikikai

Birankai North America President

TOKYO – A group of Birankai North America teachers arrived in Japan last week for a visit with a two-fold purpose.

First, we planned to attend the celebration of the promotion of Didier Boyet Shihan to 7th dan. This joyful event, which took place on Sunday, honored the training and achievements of a longtime student of Chiba Sensei, a wonderful teacher and a very close friend of Birankai.

Hosted by Miyamoto Sensei of Hombu Dojo, the celebration was held in a large ballroom with many students, teachers and friends from around the world. We shared in the memories of Boyet Sensei’s many years of adventurous training with Chiba Sensei and many of the other legends of Aikido. Representing Birankai North America, our group also had the opportunity to publicly honor Boyet Sensei’s generosity and success.

As I mentioned in my remarks, just as France was the first friend of the United States

Birankai President Alex Peterson and Boyet Shihan.

Birankai President Alex Peterson and Boyet Shihan.

when our nation was born, Boyet Sensei has been the first friend of Birankai North America. His acerbic wit and Gallic pride have always been balanced by his incredible generosity and shared knowledge. Whenever Birankai N. A. teachers or students have needed assistance, advice or support, whether in their training or travels to Japan, Boyet Shihan has unselfishly responded. The evening was a joyful celebration of a committed martial artist. We anticipate many future years of mutual connection and support with this beloved teacher.

Our second purpose, albeit somber, was to visit and honor the resting place of our

Chiba Sensei's family gravesite.

Chiba Sensei’s family gravesite.

founder, T. K. Chiba Sensei. Guided by Boyet Sensei, senior teachers of Birankai N. A. were able to quietly attend to and gently honor the resting place of Sensei. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny spring day with cherry blossoms beginning their bloom. The temple and grounds were slowly awakening to spring with flowers, calling birds and the laughter of children.

Teachers and students together, quietly cleaning and honoring the family gravesite, paying respects at the shrine and then sharing tea and memories together with the attending monk (the son of a long-time dear friend of Sensei). It was a melancholy pilgrimage steeped in compassionate remembrance and renewed devotion to the training we each share. We hope that all of Sensei’s students may have such an opportunity.

While our trip will continue, these moments highlight the community that our training has forged. We hope you enjoy the photos and look forward to training with each of you very soon at Summer Camp in Queens, New York. See you on the mat!

Birankai teachers clean Chiba Sensei's gravesite.

Birankai teachers clean Chiba Sensei’s gravesite.

Darrell Bluhm Shihan pours sake on the memorial stone.

Darrell Bluhm Shihan pours sake on the memorial stone.

Sharing memories at Chogengi Temple, site of Chiba Sensei's grave.

Sharing memories at Chogengi Temple, site of Chiba Sensei’s grave.

Chiba Sensei Biography Project Launched

By Liese Klein, Biran Editor

Who was Chiba Sensei?
What does it mean to practice his Aikido?
What is his significance in the larger history of the art?

Many of us have our own answers to these questions, but with our community spread out across the world, now seems like a good time to bring our stories together.

OSensei and Chiba SenseiToward that goal, we have started a book-length biography project on the subject of Chiba Sensei and his Aikido. Our aim is to gather oral history and documents from as many of his family members, colleagues and students as possible. This book will tell both Chiba Sensei’s personal story and the story of the Japanese, U.K.,U.S. and other dojos and organizations that he inspired. Proceeds from the book will benefit Chiba Sensei’s family. (Our budget is the barest of bare-bones, so help with incidentals like buying your interviewer lunch is greatly appreciated!)

The main building block of the book will be interviews – my list is already hundreds of names long. I am trying to talk at length with everyone I can, inside and outside of Birankai, at summer camp, by phone, by email, at seminars, wherever and whenever. Don’t worry if I haven’t contacted you yet – I’ll get to you soon! I will be traveling to Japan (later this month) and the U.K. in the coming year to visit important locations and conduct interviews.

Mick Holloway and Chiba Sensei in England, 1973.

Mick Holloway and Chiba Sensei in England, 1973.

What you can do right now is send me videos, photos and any other material you might have that might be of interest. Especially early video and photos of Aikido and other events in Japan, the U.K. and San Diego. Also vitally important to this history are letters from Chiba Sensei that contain material that may be of interest to the larger community. For example, the incredible letter from Chiba Sensei that we published in Biran a few years ago on the subject of failing a test. (Names and personal details in letters can be redacted.) Please scan original photos and letters and send them to me with your contact information. My email address is liese.klein@gmail.com; I can set up or share Dropbox folders for larger files.

Chiba Sensei and Mrs. Chiba in 1981 in San Diego.

Chiba Sensei and Mrs. Chiba in 1981 in San Diego.

A sincere thank-you to the Birankai North America Senior Council and officers who have helped get this project off the ground. My hope is that the book will be an important link from our past to our future, a resource for students of Aikido in the decades and centuries to come.
L. Klein

The Course of Nature

Dear Birankai Colleagues,

At our 2015 Summer Camp, many of you had an opportunity to meet my friend, Amnon Amnon TzechovoyTzechovoy Sensei, Shidoin, of Birankai Israel (Tel Aviv), and to purchase his remarkable new book, Seeking the Unicorn: Philosophical and Psychoanalytical Insights into the Practice and Teaching of Aikido.

The book was completed before Chiba Sensei’s death, but there was no opportunity to present the “finished product” to Sensei, the true subject of the book.  It was my honor to present the book as a gift to Mrs. Chiba at a memorial event.

Later in 2015, Tzechovoy Sensei added a new, final chapter: “Ki No More” — a moving farewell to our founder which, I feel, penetrates to the heart of Sensei’s teachings. After some discussion, we decided to share it with you here on BiranOnline. (Please click on title below for Word document.) The chapter will be included in future editions of the book.

Palm-to-Palm,

Aki Fleshler, Multnomah Aikikai

Portland, Oregon

Ki No More

Welcoming a new generation

Photo by Sean MacNintch

Photo by Sean MacNintch

Kate Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai visited Fire Horse Aikido this past weekend for her first solo seminar. The powerful, precise and confident Aikido we saw on the mat Saturday was inspiring to all. The mat was packed and the energy was high.

Dojos represented included Fire Horse Aikido, Brooklyn Aikikai, Bucks County Aikido, Rhode Island Aikikai, Copper Mountain Aikido, Valley Aikido, Connecticut Aikikai and Aiki Farms, among others. Continue reading

Aikido and the Arc of the Moral Universe

By John Brinsley, Aikido Daiwa

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The above phrase originates from a Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an eventsermon by American transcendentalist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker (1810-1860) and was made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parker, a fierce abolitionist, saw the end of slavery as inevitable, based on his faith in “a continual and progressive triumph of the right.”* He conceded that it might be hard to ascertain merely from personal experience when and how justice would prevail. Yet instinctually he knew it to be true and saw it as his duty to fight for abolition. Along with organizing resistance to fugitive slave laws, Parker also advocated for other mid-19th century reform movements, including women’s rights and income equality.

Similarly, King viewed the civil rights struggle as ultimately being successful despite the obvious and sometimes crushing presence of evil and despair in the world. He preached that truth could not be suppressed forever; there was something in the human condition Continue reading